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Are Girls Smarter than Boys? Disproving the Gender Gap of Learning

Posted on | Mike Bullard

Is the so-called gender gap in learning real? Some experts in education argue that such a chasm is non-existent. Others insist that it is a real result of the over-feminization of the educational system. Many maintain that the differences in which boys and girls learn are simply an inalterable fact of life.

Statistics suggest that when it comes to learning, girls have the clear advantage. In the overall primary to secondary school system, almost half of the girls consistently earn A and B grades, whereas only a third of the boys do the same. Seven-tenths of suspended students are male and males compose only two-fifths of college graduates. In addition, statistics released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that girls score higher than boys, consistently, in reading — and that this “gender gap of learning,” especially in reading, will increase the older these children grow. The raw numbers are not promising for boys.

But then, these statisticians and scholars have never met the Presbyterian Day School student body. At PDS, the gender gap of learning, especially in reading, is disproved — every single day.

PDS has thrown itself — heart and soul — into building reading foundations for its boys. The Mallory Reading and Learning Center, a learning hub in PDS with spaces for small groups and individuals, is testament to this. The PDS approach? To give the boys a reading foundation by teaching them in such a way that they will develop a true love for it. PDS has learning specialists who focus not only on the different interests the boys may have, but in matching the learning needs of each boy to the best teaching approaches for reading instruction.

PDS boys display the effects of such care. They carry books under their arms, trade them, talk about them. And when given free reading time, these boys settle down and read away. The room may be quiet, but in their imaginations, they are saving the kingdom with young Rangers, solving mysteries with the Boxcar Children, or going undercover with Alex Rider. They are unaware of the stereotype that assumes girls are supposed to be better readers and that boys excel only in math and science. The “gender gap” has no chance against these book-lovers armed with PDS’ specialized approach to education.

That PDS is a school where the focus is on boys has a corresponding impact on their reading scores. An interesting research piece disproving the gender gap of science for girls showed that girls showed the most interest in science when the co-ed class was split according to gender. Without the constant boys-do-science-best perception hanging over their heads, they could study science as it applied to them, and discover a liking and competence for it that girls in co-ed classes did not have. In the same way, at PDS, boys are encouraged to be themselves, to accept their individual learning styles, and to maximize their learning potential during each daily lesson. With no reason to think that they cannot reach a high reading bar set for them, they excel.

Simply put, PDS boys do not know that girls are supposed to be better at reading.

As the Journal of Research in Science Teaching points out, “individuals’ beliefs that they are competent and can be successful are important for learning and achievement.” Perception matters. If boys buy in to the perception that they are supposed to be slower readers than girls, they will subconsciously lower their own standards for themselves. Take away the forced perception, and the true learning can begin. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Scholars and educators all across the teaching spectrum are discovering for themselves that the so-called “gender gap” in reading is nothing more than the unfitness of today’s standardized teaching for boys. Author Michael Thompson (It’s a Boy!, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys) puts it humorously, but with unfortunate truth: “If you treat girls as the gold standards and boys as defective girls, that’s going to be demoralizing.” He suggests that boys should be taught according to what motivates them: the chance for competition, for teamwork, for showing off something they have done. Their minds should be engaged in what they are learning as if they are solving a problem, instead of being drilled into recitation robots.

Boys should be taught according to what motivates them: the chance for competition, for teamwork, for showing off something they have done. Their minds should be engaged in what they are learning as if they are solving a problem, instead of being drilled into recitation robots.

Educational consultant and author Bill McBride (Building Literacy in Social Studies, Entertaining an Elephant) says that the need for action and movement is not a learning disability for boys.

PDS understands this need for movement and the teachers engage classes accordingly. Mini-skits, illustrative games, and small group activities maximize the learning process for every boy. Even more importantly, teachers intentionally incorporate “boy friendly” books into the reading curriculum. High-interest material engages the boys and helps them enjoy reading beyond the classroom.

PDS is far ahead of the game, and every day disproves the “gender gap of reading.” Our students are proof that, in spite of statistics, a teaching approach that is customized to each child’s learning style pays off by producing boys who are not only adept at reading, but enjoy it.

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